Melbourne Storm ready for more success after beating Leeds Rhinos in World Club Challenge
- Russell Gould
- Herald Sun
- February 24, 2013 12:00AM
The Melbourne Stormcelebrate after winning the World Club Challenge. Source: AFP
Kevin Sinfield of Leeds Rhinos is tackled by Gareth Widdop and Siosaia Vave during the World Club Challenge. Source: Getty Images
MELBOURNE Storm’s 2012 bag of tricks was still good enough to weave some 2013 magic yesterday and showed the NRL champions have the stuff to go again this year.
Halfback Cooper Cronk, man of the match in the 18-14 World Club Challenge win over Leeds, picked up where he left off in last year’s grand final with an all-conquering, all-controlling display.
His array of passes and kicks to not just his fullback Billy Slater but his other forwards and backs had the Rhinos in a spin at stages and belied his lack of match practice.
Cronk said the game, the battle for world supremacy, was like a grand final only he had his teammates didn’t have the normal 30 weeks of preparation that goes in to such a big match.
That being the case Storm wheeled out plenty of the stuff that worked in last year’s successful premiership pursuit to score three tries to two and hold out the home team.
The game, played in near freezing conditions, was Cronk’s first hit-out for the year but his supreme conditioning and detailed preparation ensured he delivered the sort of performance that makes him a pre-eminent playmaker in the game.
“We as players hold this game in high regard. It’s a tough game, the two best teams in the world going at it,” Cronk said.
“We didn’t have the best preparation, it’s our first real hit-out for the year. But we toughed it out.
“We didn’t execute our plays great but we had a tough mentality. Execution may have been a tad off but mistakes were rare, with a glut of forward passes in the second half the only real sign of any rustiness.”
But it wasn’t just Cronk’s first game of the year. Centre Will Chambers missed the two trials in Melbourne through injury, while skipper Cameron Smith and Justin O’Neill were playing with new teammates like try-scorer Tohu Harris and backrowers Lagi Setu and Junior Moors for the first time too.
The new additions, filling the hole left by the departure of four players from last year’s grand final side, and the absence of injured Kevin Proctor, were more evidence of coach Craig Bellamy’s ability to build around his star core.
Harris in particular starred scoring his maiden try in front of his father who had a 31-hour trip from Hawkes Bay in New Zealand to get to Headingley for the game.
Victorian Mahe Fonua too, while still prone to the odd defensive lapse, was keen for work and used his big frame and low centre of gravity to work over defenders when he carried the ball forward.
And hulking prop Jesse Browmich, close to be on ground himself, underlined his status as a star of the game with a performance full of the quality that has made him a fully fledged international.
Storm built its pre-season around winning the World Club Challenge, and ticked that box with authority, escaping with minimal damage as well.
But underpinning their pre-season planning was making sure they returned to Australia in readiness for round one too.
After a weekend visit to watch Manchester United, a treat for securing world champion status and replacing a trophy taken from them two years ago, they’ll board a plane home on Monday. ”
And for me, that’s the greater challenge, making sure we are ready for St George in round one,” Storm skipper Smith said.
Melbourne had made the game the cornerstone of its pre-season preparations and coach Craig Bellamy couldn’t have been happier.
“We didn’t come here to treat this as a trial game, this was important to us,” he said.
“If we are going to come to England we want to win and I can’t fault the players. We were here with the right attitude, they’ve not complained about the cold once or anything like that, and we know we have taken pride in our performance on behalf of the NRL.”